Bar dancers in Kolkata set eyes on Mumbai

Bar dancers in Kolkata set eyes on Mumbai

Jhuma (name changed) lives at Barasat, around 30 km from Kolkata, and sings in a bar close to the airport.

Once, however, she went by the name Simran and was the star attraction at Night Queen, a dance bar in Mumbai’s Chembur.

A lot has changed in the decade since the Maharashtra government banned dance bars. Now, with Supreme Court striking down the ban, Jhuma and many other women from Bengal are hopeful of earning a better living again.

While Jhuma, now 34, cannot hope to regain her earlier stature, many others are looking forward to the reopening of dance bars in Mumbai so they can return to a better life.
When Maharashtra banned dance bars in 2005, women from Bengal, who made up a significant chunk of the bar-dancer population, had to switch to working as waiters or crooners.

As many of these women returned to Kolkata, they kick-started a boom in the number of orchestra bars in the city and other parts of Bengal even though their income dropped drastically. Their return added to the local economy with an estimate suggesting that from just around 17 “singing” bars at Kolkata in 2004, the number went up to nearly 240 by 2007. Those not lucky enough to find place in orchestra bars took to prostitution.

While an estimated 75,000 women were involved as bar dancers, a study by Mumbai-based SNDT Women’s University and Forum Against Oppression of Women revealed that the largest chunk of women — around 24 per cent — came from Uttar Pradesh, followed by 21 per cent from West Bengal, with only 12 per cent from Mumbai and 5 per cent from other parts of Maharashtra.

Nisha, another bar dancer who now sings at an orchestra bar in Kolkata, said most women who returned from Mumbai keep in touch with each other through a loosely-formed organisation that shares ties with the Bharatiya Bar Girls’ Union in Mumbai. Nisha, now 28, hopes she still has a few good years left to make up for lost income.

“It will not be easy for them. It’s sad they lost out on a sizeable income in the last 10 years. We will try to accommodate as many of them as possible. If dance bars reopen, there will be opportunities for a lot of girls,” she said.

Dance Bar Association chairman Bharat Singh Thakur pointed out that many girls went off to work in bars in the Gulf, while many others found Mumbai expensive and returned to Kolkata.

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